The entire Colorado and Wyoming region has so much to offer – you could spend weeks just eating your way through Denver, or bounce to one of hundreds of mountain adventures within hours. If I do my job correctly, this guide will help you better understand what each has to offer and what spots to hit whether you have a few days or a few weeks in the Denver / Jackson Hole regions.
My initial draw to Denver for this trip was Outdoor Retailer, held at the city convention center. I make a point at least once every couple of years of getting out to Outdoor Retailer, especially now that it has moved from Salt Lake City to Denver, i.e. the mecca of weekend mountain adventures. For this particular trip, I wanted to also use the opportunity to do some city hopping around Denver, checking out the hotel, art, and brewery scene, followed by a long weekend getaway in Jackson Hole, easily one of my favorite places in the world (having been to the Alps, Dolomites, Andes, etc, Jackson Hole still remains towards the top of the list!)
Importantly, this trip took place during winter Outdoor Retailer in early November, which to Denver urbanites and Jackson Hole skiiers is considered the “off-season,” i.e. the season of waiting patiently for that first big snowfall which officially signals winter sports season. But to me, this shoulder season should very much be considered ‘on’ season for tourists for a number of reasons: 1) there are less crowds, 2) the weather hasn’t turned for the worse yet (& is actually quite nice given the region’s reputation for having way more sunny days than not!), 3) lower hotel prices given the lower volume of traffic, 4) the roads are not yet iced over, making road trips and outdoor adventures easy and safe.
PLACES TO STAY:
Hilton Denver City Center hosted me on this trip, and I would stay there again 10 times out of 10. They were within walking distance of everything I wanted to see/do, super useful in terms of concierge/front desk services, had a kick-butt breakfast, and have an incredible and diverse dinner offering at Prospect’s Urban Kitchen & Bar located conveniently on the lower level of the hotel. Not to mention, the hotel itself is completely affordable for the average traveler! An ideal spot for really anyone: business travelers, individuals, or families.
Another often overlooked but important qualifier is that a hotel be a place where you feel comfortable leaving bags if needed, as I did. I had no worries in my mind about leaving all of my luggage there for 3 days while on another leg of my trip, and that peace of mind was worth every penny of my stay!
Whatever you do, I would highly recommend finding a hotel in the city center or near union station. You’ll find that a hotel in either location is reliable, convenient, and will have all of the amenities you could ever want. Plus, being near highways (as the city center ones are) to get in and out on an adventure is another major perk. My friend who came from Golden to pick me up was able to get in and out of the city in a matter of minutes. Airport rides by Uber were also effortless. Win win.
AirBnB is also a good option in Denver, with many cute and well-located properties available. I would stay either near Union Station or in Capitol Hill.
Barcelona Wine Bar RiNo (half of all bottles of wine on Sundays - no brainer)
Improper City (food truck park, beer garden, live music)
Denver Distillery (what it sounds like: craft distillery & tasting room)
PLACES TO STAY:
We stayed at two different hotels, which were completely different but each had their own unique assets, depending on what you are looking for.
Let’s break them each down, shall we?
Always a sucker for a place with a bit of history, I fully appreciated that this hotel was started as a passion project of the Darwiche family, as Jim Darwiche and his wife Safaa spent many decades developing numerous businesses in Jackson and fell in love with the town and it’s heritage before deciding to start the new Hotel Jackson. I say “new” because the original Hotel Jackson was one of the first five buildings that made up the town of Jackson in the early 1900s, and this hotel being so aptly named is a nod to history.
As for hospitality, this absolutely gorgeous, rustic, high-end hotel leaves no detail overlooked. They’ve got luxury dialed in: the front desk runs like a well-oiled machine, and when there, you truly feel as though you have nothing left to do but sit back and R E L A X and let them do the rest.
We noticed lots of little details, from the attentiveness of the staff, to the warm cookies, coffee/tea & adventure books available in the lobby, to the soothing music and bottle of water made available as part of the turn down service at night. We felt very well looked after here. Not to mention, the lodgy western flair makes you feel warm and cozy, without isolating you from the mountains right outside the front door. Hotel Jackson successfully brings the outside in.
A final perk: Hotel Jackson boasts one of the best restaurants in Jackson Hole, it’s very own on-site Lebanese and Mediterranean fusion restaurant called FIGS, which I’d certainly recommend you at least stop at for a dinner. But be careful setting up too close to the restaurant’s two story fireplace: you may never end up wanting to leave.
Importantly, Hotel Jackson is also the first LEED-certified hotel in Jackson Hole, so is ahead of the curve.
Living in Europe has given me a real affinity for hotels that have that lodge meets ultra modern/hip feel. The lobby of the 49-room Anvil Hotel feels almost as though you’ve been dropped into a Huckberry catalogue. Fancy coffees are available for purchase, and the common area fireplace invites you to waste your day away cozied up in front of it. I have to be honest: I could’ve sat in their lobby and ignored the mountains outside all day long. Yes, it is THAT cozy and inviting.
Another perk: they have lots of fun trendy gear (including sunglasses from my friends over at Sunski!) and the entire hotel’s aesthetic just screams PENDLETON! Don’t forget to set aside some money to purchase a takeaway from their lobby store... if you're anything like me, you’ll want everything in there.
This hotel is a steal at a price point starting in the low 100’s, especially in shoulder season. What we loved most about the rooms was that they felt upscale and hip, but also just cozy/small enough that you almost believed you were in a cabin in the woods. The room got cooler at night (by choice, we could’ve turned on the heater, but opted not to), and we loved bundling up under the winter-ready heavy wool blankets adorning each bed. It is safe to say that Anvil encouraged us to fully embrace the cabin feels.
Interestingly, Anvil also has a fun history. Bloomberg recently quite aptly called it “the Wild West’s Dude Ranch for Hipsters”. The hotel has been around a long time (since the 1950’s, when it was considered more of a ‘motel’) and first caught the attention of now-owner hotelier Erik Warner in the mid-90’s. Early in his hospitality career, Warner worked the front desk at the “old” Anvil Hotel, and knew then that it could become something special. But it wasn’t until years later, on a visit back to Jackson Hole in 2014, that he discovered it’s current owners were toying with the idea of selling it. Armed with a couple decades of experience in the hospitality industry, and many successful projects under his belt, the time was finally right. Warner made a successful sales pitch and the Anvil Hotel became his. The entire hotel was gutted to become what it has become today. I suppose the combination of city hotelier flare + traditional Jackson Hole rustic is what makes this place feel so special.
Bin22 (easily our favorite this trip, we kept going back)
FIGS (in Hotel Jackson)
Glorietta (on-property restaurant at Anvil Hotel)
Persephone Bakery (best sit down breakfast)
Pearl Street Bagels (best cheap, delicious breakfast)
Million Dollar Cowboy Bar (a classic spot, but they are under new ownership as of early 2018 and making a push to bring in great bands… this place gets better every year)
Snake River Brewery (also excellent for bar food)
Stop into Spirit and Spice, try some of the many options on tap, and pick up some gifts for friends/family. They will ship!
My absolute biggest off-season activity recommendation for Jackson, if your wallet allows (and even if it doesn’t, because it’s absolutely worth the splurge), is to take in aerial views of the region with Fly Jackson Hole. They’ve been around for about 4 years as of 2018, and their operation is based right at the airport, so you can easily get to them – no excuses. What better way to see absolutely everything Jackson Hole has to offer than to see it all in one epic full swoop?
We spent a few hours with the pilots, Pete (owner) and Dave, and both are two of the nicest, most charismatic folks you could ever meet. You get the sense that they really love what they do, love and take pride in Jackson, and simply feel it is their obligation/honor to show other people the place they love so much.
Importantly, both absolutely know their stuff when it comes to flying, as they have over 50 years of charter flying experience between the two of them. This is an airplane ride you don’t feel even the slightest bit worried or on edge about, which allows you to focus all of your energy on the beauty all around you.
Fly Jackson Hole has 2 planes in their fleet: a Cessna 207 8-seater and a Cessna 172XP. You can’t go wrong with either – it’s more a matter of how many people you’ve got with you.
We opted for their Alpenglow Tour, which meant we had 90 minutes in the skies before, during and after sunset. The tour allowed us to see Jackson and surrounding areas by day, but then get over to the other side of the Tetons to capture photos of that coveted dewey pink just sneaking it’s way across the mountains before the day slipped into night. The best surprise for us was just how much our pilot Dave knew about the region – I’ve been coming to Jackson Hole for years, and felt like I learned more about the entire area in those 90 minutes than I had in a decade. The flight cost was worth the download on local history and knowledge in itself!
If you have any doubts about booking a trip, don’t. Just do it!
Now that we have covered that, here are other off-season activities (check on these before you go, as some are closed at certain points depending on exact timing):
DRIVING / HIKING AROUND THE PARK
I can’t stress enough: the best way to experience Jackson is to get a rental car (even better if it’s 4WD or a fun adventure vehicle) and GO!!! To optimize your time in the region and see everything the park has to offer, you’ll want to be able to get around on your own without relying on hotel shuttles which will only take you to the airport/ski slopes and back. Here are a few must-sees in the park:
Drive to Moulton Barn at Mormon Row
Check out the Elk Refuge
Hike to Taggart Lake
Visit Granite Hot Springs
Visit Kelly Warm Springs
Take the ski lift to the top at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort
Depending on the time of year, there is plenty of hiking. We were there in early November, which meant most of the trails were too snowy/icy, but if you go in even October, plenty of trails are still accessible.
*BONUS: Because I attended Outdoor Retailer in Winter 2018, I wanted to share some photos / takeaways from the event for anyone interested in attending a future show.
The general consensus especially now that they have split the winter show into two is that it is a much slower show, which actually was nice. It allows people to take a bit more time to chat and feel a little less crunched on time/appointments. At the 2018 November Winter show, I had a few important takeaways worth sharing around the show and trends across the industry as a whole:
I’ve been really excited to see how many panels/conversations are being had around innovation in an industry that has been slow to change. We are entering a new era.
Sustainability, transparency and a re-examined supply chain continue to be current and relevant issues across many industries - & it definitely applies here. Consumers are getting smarter & want to know what’s in their products, who’s making them, and where they’re coming from.
Retail and E-commerce as we know it are changing forever, thanks to behemoths like Amazon. Best for retailers to work with it, not against it.
There is still so much opportunity in the adventure foods landscape - particularly for companies that do things to stand out in a crowded market (i.e. like RXBar). Clif Bar / Larabar, etc. remain dominant players but are ripe for disruption. Bonus pts for clean labels, & fresh/natural trumps long shelf life. A newly discovered favorite brand adhering to this ethos was Four Points Bar. Check them out!
The US & Rest of World operate very independently. Regulations make it hard for brands to export to Europe. Lots of room to improve / work through the regulatory systems in order to take brands GLOBAL.
There’s a real buzz in this industry about using their retail platforms for good to effect real change in the US. Brands are investing a lot of time/resources/marketing $ into causes around public lands & its important work - & is being heard.
DISCLOSURE: This trip was sponsored or partially sponsored by Hilton City Center Hotel, Hotel Jackson, Anvil Hotel and Fly Jackson Hole. I thank each for their warm hospitality and partnership.